Pre-Mauryan Age: Mahajanapadas and their capitals
Posted on : 18-11-2017


The strength of fertile land, iron technology in making weapons and agriculture revolution led to the formation of Mahajanapadas. During the Early Mauryan period, the dependence of the people on agriculture has reached its peak. This made the people to settle down at a place permanently. These permanent settlements laid foundation of janapadas or territorial states under the control of a king.

In sixth century BC main area of political activity shifted from west Uttar Pradesh to east Uttar Pradesh and Bihar as this region was fertile, with good rainfall and close to iron producing centers. The growth of Iron technology and the development of art of maintaining high temperature and smelting of iron led to the wide spread use of iron tools and weapons. This gave strength to the ruler, brought agriculture revolution and enabled amalgamation of large number of rural and urban settlements. These settlements were called as Mahajanapadas.


Features of Mahajanapadas

The following are the features of Mahajanapadas,

  • In 600 BC, they were total 16 in number as per Buddhist text Anguttara Nikaya (part of sutta Pitaka). Also other jaina texts like Bhagavati sutra and Buddhist text like Mahavastu
  • Most of the mahajanapadas were located north of Vindhyas between Bihar and North West frontier of the subcontinent.
  • Many of the states were monarchial (ruled by hereditary king) but some were Ganasanghas (elected ruler).
  • In Ganasanghas, administration was run by an elected king with the help of large assemblies comprising heads of all important clans and families.
  • Common man had no participation in the election of the ruler of Ganasangha.
  • Most important of the Ganasangha ruled states was Vajji with Capital Vaishali ruled by Licchavis at the foothills of Himalayas.
  • In the beginning Kashi was the most powerful Mahajanapada. But in course of time the small and weak kingdoms either submitted to the strong rulers or got eliminated. Finally Magadha emerged as the most powerful state.


The sixteen Mahajanapadas

S. No Mahajanapada Capital Present day location
1 Kasi Varanasi Benaras
2 Kosala Sravasti Ayodhya
3 Magadha Rajagriha South Bihar
4 Anga Champa East Bihar
5 Vajji Vaisali North Bihar
6 Malla Pavapuri/Kusinagara Gorakhpur
7 Chedi Sukmitai Bundhelkandh
8 Kambhoja Rajpur North East India
9 Gandhara Taxila Peshawar & Rawalpindi
10 Matsya Viratnagara Jaipur
11 Vatsa Kausambhi Allahabad
12 Kuru Indraprastana Meerut-Delhi
13 Panchala Ahicchatra/Kampila Uttar Pradesh
14 Avanti Mahismati Malwa
15 Surasena Mathura Mathura
16 Assaka Pratisthana Maharastra

It was the most powerful Mahajanapada in the beginning.

The capital was Varanasi, which is referred to as the foremost city of India.

It was famous for cotton textiles and horse market

It was finally annexed by Magadha under Ajatasatru

Sravasti was the capital city. But Ayodhya was an important town in Kosala.

The most popular king of Kosala is Prasenjit. He was contemporary and friend of Buddha.

Initially Kosala annexed Kashi in its territory.

Sister of Prasenjit was married to Bimbisara and Kashi was given in dowry. Later Ajatasatru son of Bimbisara killed his father and sister of Prasenjit died due to grief. In retaliation, Prasenjit confiscated Kashi.

After few years Daughter of Prasenjit was married to Ajatasatru and Kashi was given in dowry.

Later on Kosala finally became a part of Magadha kingdom.

It is one of the leading Mahajanapadas.

This kingdom has started the policy of imperialism by conquering most of the kingdoms.

Magadha kingdom was founded by Jarasandha and Brihadratha. However, real founders are Bimbisara and Ajatasatru.

The capital of this kingdom is Rajagriha or Girivraja. Later capital was shifted to Pataliputra.

This kingdom is located in East Bihar

Its capital was champa

In the middle of sixth century Anga was annexed by Magadha under Bimbisara.

This kingdom was located in Vaisali district of Bihar

Its capital was Mithila under Videhas. Later it was shifted to Vaisali by Licchavis

Vajji kingdom was known for its political system of Ganasangha.

It was a confederacy of eight clans. Of these clans Licchavis, Videha and Jnatrikas were well known.

This confederacy was destroyed by Magadha king Ajatasatru

This kingdom was ruled by Kshatriya rulers.

It was also known for its political system of Ganasangha

This kingdom had twin capitals namely Pavapuri and Kushinagara

Buddha dies in the vicinity of Kushinagara and it was Mallas who performed his last rites.

Later this kingdom was annexed by Magadha.

This kingdom was located in the modern Bundelkhand

Its capital was Sukmitai

The capital of this kingdom is Rajpur

This kingdom was situated at the western frontier of India

Its capital was Taxila.

The capital was famous for education and learning in Ancient times

Gandhari, wife of Dhritrashta was the princess of this kingdom.

This kingdom was located in Rajasthan

Its capital is Viratnagara

Later it was absorbed into Magadha empire

This kingdom is located on the banks of the river Yamuna

Its capital is Kausambi

Kausambi was one of the important principalities of sixth century BC

Udayana was the most powerful king of Vatsa.

The capital of this kingdom is Indraprasta or Hastinapur

It was administrated by the rulers of Kuru clan.

This kingdom is located in Rohilkhand

There existed two branches of Panchalas divided by river Bhagirathi. Namely northern Panchalas and southern Panchalas.

The capital of Northern Panchalas was Ahicchatra

And the capital of Southern Panchalas was Kampilya

This kingdom was located in the Ujjain district of Madhya Pradesh

Its capital was Mahismati

Chandra Pradyota was the most powerful king of this kingdom

Avanti was an important center of Buddhism. King Pradyota himself was the follower of Buddhism

This kingdom was finally annexed into Magadha empire by Sisunga

The Surasena kingdom is located on the banks of the river Yamuna

Its capital is Mathura

This kingdom also had Ganasangha kind of political system

Magadha empire finally annexed this kingdom

This kingdom was located on the banks of the river Godavari in Maharashtra

Its capital was Pratisthana

Ishvaku Kshatriyas ruled this kingdom

It was annexed by Avanti kingdom

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